I’m not all over that.

This year’s Baseball World Series on FOX subjected viewers to two especially smelly commercials. One, which I’ll mention just briefly, was a car commercial (and being the terrible person I am I can’t remember the brand) featuring two cars taunting one another, with the weaker of the two eventually pissing out steaming yellow coolant fluid and whimpering away. During the frequent airing of this commercial I learned to seek protection by turning off my eyeballs and concentrating only on the sound effects. I became convinced that the sounds accompanying the tougher car’s aggressive rumble were made from a blend of a bowling ball striking ten pins and a lion’s r0wr. The bowling pin track is processed so much as to be rendered to be, uh, abstruse (if that word can be applied to sounds). But it’s there. Watch the commercial 30 times – hopefully you’ll be able to ignore the steaming piss-coolant and be absorbed in the ultra-produced bowling roar.

And if it’s not there, and I’m completely imagining the bowling sounds, then I’ll just say that it’s probably something that should be sequenced into a dramatic crash. A strike provides such a satisfying crunchy shatter.

The second smelly commercial is a Bud Light ad featuring archival footage of Babe Ruth doing his famous point of the bat to predict a big home run. The commercial posits a what-if scenario regarding the now somewhat-ubiquitous occurrence of mic’ed players. What if Babe Ruth was mic’ed as he pointed to the out-field and then hit a home run and ran around the bases? Hilariously, we’d probably find that our lovable chub was actually pointing at a Bud Light vendor! But the completely awful part of this commercial is the voice that Bud Light has gone to great liberties to attach to The Bambino. To be straight, if I utilize the same eyeball trick I learned in the last commercial, it sounds like Babe Ruth is not a hero huffing around bases, but instead hanging around in some slobby home-entertainment den, watching and cheering on his bro while he screws the poor prostitute they’ve scrounged up for the two of them, anxiously awaiting his crack at her, and all the while little bubbles of excitement-vomit emerge from the back of his throat. (“I’m all over that!” “Oh, hey, a hot dog!”). I guess it could be intentional… I mean, the familiarity could appeal… forget it. Bud Light is lousy beer.

So how, one wonders, could Bud Light be granted the liberty of replacing the hearty tones of John Goodman that we’ve for so long attributed to Babe Ruth with this pale monstrosity? It turns out that all such business inquiries begin with an extremely simple application to the estate of Babe Ruth. The inquiry is then passed onto CMG Worldwide, who, it turns out, have a substantial roster of dead celebrities to bastardize.

Maybe next we’ll see – and hear – the likeness of Jim Thorpe in an Indian Casino commercial.

Bret Easton Ellis sure does like Joan Didion

Many years ago I happened across an arcane bit of knowledge. And afterwards, although I was never able have it substantiated, I stuck by it as true. I tried to do my part to pass it along, but I don’t think any one listened – arcane and unbelievable it must have been.

One blistery night, while warm 80 mph winds wrapped through the eucalyptus trees, downing potted plants and poolside umbrellas, cutting electricity, I was stranded at a friends’ house two blocks from my own. A friend of the mother of my best friend told me that these winds weren’t always called Santa Ana’s, but were originally known as Santanas. Didn’t seem like too far of a stretch. So, I thought, every body has it wrong. I’ll correct people when ever it comes up. So I did, but no one ever cared. Arcane, unbelievable – I guess.

Despite this night, when I couldn’t travel the two silly blocks home because there was a good chance a tree or power line would fall on me, I always considered these localized autumn winds to be fortunate. First off, they are generally offshore winds — as in, they will come from land and blow towards the ocean. As an avid surfer, I was fully aware that this was one of the few times of the year when it blows in such a way. Offshore winds will catch the lip of the wave as it is about to break, thus holding the lip up and preventing it from breaking. The swell continues toward shore until the water becomes so shallow that it’s impossible to hold up any longer. The wave then breaks with much more force than usual, with the lip curving down in an unusually hollow arc and the offshore breeze pulling stray mist up off the lip and out toward the islands on the horizon (er, in Santa Barbara). In addition to that, the nights – the time when the winds blow strongest – would be transformed. It becomes warm outside, there are often high white clouds flying past. It doesn’t feel like night time any more. It becomes something entirely different: prime time television loses it’s appeal, bed-time doesn’t matter. I’d sit outside in shorts and t-shirt, watching leaves fall through scattered moonlight, listening to the wind whistle through the cracks in the windows.

It wasn’t until I read Joan Didion’s collection of essays and articles, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, that I realized that, to many in Southern California, these winds are a frightening beacon. Although I’ve always been aware of the increased risk (and damage) of fires during these days, I was surprised to read:

…the hot dry Santa Ana wind that comes down through the eucalyptus windbreaks and works on the nerves. October is the bad month for the wind, the month when breathing is difficult and the hills blaze up spontaneously. There has been no rain since April. Every voice seems a scream. It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dead, wherever the wind blows.

Of course, Didion is being dramatic (not unusual) and is setting up a story about a seemingly normal housewife who on a gusty Santana night drugged her husband, drove him into a ditch, and then set the car on fire. But a few more allusions to murder rates and bizarre behavior during this time of year are made throughout the collection. I was too young to notice local headlines when I lived in Los Angeles, and by the time I had my autumns in Santa Barbara the positives out-weighed what ever negatives this wind might have carried. My house never burned down, a tree never fell on my head, I was never bit by a rattlesnake.

This gloomy depiction of exciting warm winds is mirrored in Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, a novel about yuppie industry kids slouching around L.A. during Christmas break. Ellis makes many references to the panic and paranoia that would set in during the Santa Anas. Most of the narratives are set to memories of the past, when doors would be double-bolted and the house felt like it would implode. Coyote howls or human screams would carry by in the night, too quickly to really get a handle on, and in the morning mysterious things would be floating in the pool.

So, I was thinking as I read Less Than Zero that it’s either an easy device to pick and use in order to set a tone in a narrative that’s based around Southern California, or it’s a known anomaly that I was oblivious to (or both). And then, one page after the protagonist experiences a bit of deja vu, there’s this here bit of dialogue (pg. 113):

“Some guy propositioned me today,” Rip is saying, walking into the living room. “He just came up to me in Flip and offered me six hundred dollars to go to Laguna with him for the weekend.”

“I’m sure you’re not the only guy he approached,” Trent says, coming out into the living room and opening the door that leads to the Jacuzzi.

Now I thought I was feeling the deja vu. Before starting a book I will often flip to a random page and read a few sentences, and then when I finally get through to it I will often have a vague memory of having read it before (I have no real good reason for doing this, except maybe to induce deja vu). But I know that I never did that with this book. I soon remembered having heard a similar bit of dialogue in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It came from the article of the same name, an article about young runaway hippies in San Francisco (pg. 110):

She is telling us about somebody who propositioned her yesterday. “He just walked up to me on the Street, offered me six hundred dollars to go to Reno and do the thing.”

“You’re not the only one he approached,” Deadeye says.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop. Slouching features a random woman passed out on the floor of a room. “Deadeye says she’s been sleeping for twenty-four hours.” We later find out she was sick for a week, and they eventually took her into the hospital and she was diagnosed with pneumonia (we find that out on the same page as the quote about being propositioned). Zero (on the same page as the quote about being propositioned) has the protaganist hanging out in a room with a random boy passed out on the ground. “‘Oh, that’s Alan, I think. He’s been there for like two days.’ ‘Just leave him alone. He has mono or something.’

Speaking of mono, Slouching contains this description of a character (pg. 102): “Vicki dropped out of Laguna High ‘because I had mono.’Zero follows it up with a character who (pg. 102) states, “‘See, I got mono and dropped out of Uni and just hung around.’

I guess I was just off track while living in So. Cal. I got mono at six – much too early to know that it indicated my time to drop out, or even to know that it is a kissing disease – and I nearly died (maybe). Even though I went to the hospital every day to get blood work, it took three weeks to be diagnosed, and I missed school for six weeks. But I got a stegasaurus Transformer from the ordeal.

I find these similarities between the two books to be remarkable. The ideas (the near-direct quotes) were either flagrantly taken by Ellis, with the assumption that no one would notice, or else they were being (less-flagrantly) used as subtle references in order to denote mirrored landscapes. The bratty yuppies of Zero, twenty years later, are indeed 18-year-old kids, foregoing traditional ambition and the right track for unadulterated, lazy pleasure. They are indeed separated from their parents (though it is now the parents – the ex-hippies – who have abandoned the kids), and they use their freedom and lack of philosophy or goals to create their own care-free niche within society. Of course, in other ways the Beverly Hills offspring of the Hollywood elite are the antithesis of the Haight-Ashbury hippies. There is much less risk; they haven’t turned their backs on education or psychiatry; they are numbed by wealth and stability into untrauma – into undrama – and so they can’t figure out what, if anything, they’re reacting to.

(I could probably go on, but, well, no one will read this and I’m not getting a grade or getting paid, and I think I’ve made a point or two.)

But if any one reads this, feel free to comment. Edit: Thanks Bookslut! I guess some people will read this.

Edit from an earlier date than the edit above: After a teensy bit of research, it appears that Ellis is a devoted fan of Didion. He frequently refers to her work as a major influence on his early stuff, especially Less Than Zero (see Ellis interviewed by Jaime Clarke).

On this album I decided to spend some time addressing all the haters

It all started, I believe, with Warrant’s Ode to Tipper Gore. Attributing their lack of radio play to their unwillingness to back down from employing a good swear word when a good swear word was needed, Warrant decided to address the Indecency Czar herself with a track consisting entirely of sound bites of people swearing.* While this track mainly addressed government-sanctioned censorship, it marked the beginning (as I see it) of musical artists using tracks on their albums to explicitly sock it to those people with whom they beef.
This point was a tipping one for the establishment of a formula. It goes:

-Put out an album and become known.

-Experience criticism for the album by both critics and contemporaries. Make sure to spend way too much time reading and obsessing over the criticism because no one ever told you that your sanity/artistic credibility depended on you ignoring it.

-Put out another album and spend an inordinate amount of lyrical time defending yourself from, and making fun of, the folks who dared label you as “untalented”.

Gangster-rapper Eazy-E road the coat-tails of Warrant’s open source formula when he followed up his first two post-N.W.A. albums with It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa – a true dynamo of a riposte that clearly announced to both the rap community and little white kids like me that the shit Dr. Dre spewed in The Chronic would not go unanswered.** While more than half of the songs featured some bash on Dre and his cronies at Death Row Records, the most biting, um, bites occurred on Real Muthaphuckkin G’s. On it, E is heard to rap, “I hope your fans understand when you talk about sprayin’ (?) me. The same records that you’re making are paying me. Motherfuck Dre, Motherfuck Snoop, Motherfuck Death Row. Yo, and here comes my left blow…” He then goes on to simulate gun shots that presumably kilt Dre.***

I never understood why people weren’t dieing over this album. It was some harsh stuff. Granted, musicians have apparently died, in part, because of too much feuding. But that hasn’t quenched artists desires to openly address the haters. On the contrary, at this point in time the formula is probably even more standardized.

Newsweek notes that Lil’ Kim’s hastily-made album makes sure to drop some of the harshest dis lyrics the New York hard-core rap scene has seen in years. She takes stabs at the former-friends who had the gall to not commit perjury, at 50-Cent for “criticizing her extensive plastic surgery”, and even Star Jones (“her offense: probably just being annoying”).

It’s an unfortunate given – this whole “this album is really personal to me” copout that just compensates for a lack of originality and as a defense for insecurities. I’m sure the list of artists who sink to this would extend for pages – Eminem, T.I., every artist with “Lil'” in their name, Sean Paul, um, Hilary Duff (maybe not).

Thanks to Warrant, I wouldn’t be surprised if down-on-their-originality mongers The Killers expend a song or two on their next album bashing their very-bashable archrivals The Bravery. Although I would be surprised if Mariah Carey steps up to Sonic Youth on her next album.

*It should be noted that Cherry Pie only features one swear word outside of The Ode. On Train, Train, singer Jani Lane kicks off the song by announcing, “All on fucking board! Uh huh!”
**It should be noted that The Chronic also features a track called The Doctor’s Office that’s entirely made up of the grunts and groans Dr. Dre makes when he balls a bitch. Just thought I’d mention that.
***Another note, this one even further from the point of this post than that last note: At 14 years old, as I consumed It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, I went on a surf trip to Baja with a Christian surfing association. The director, a cop and an every-one-in-the-world-who’s-not-on-this-trip-will-suffer-searing-scars-in-hell type of Christian, searched my backpack while I was out surfing, found my walkman with this tape inside. He listened to it in its entirety, and then organized an intervention in which he then forced me, in front of the entire group, to walk up to the edge of a cliff and throw the tape into the water below. I was bitter the entire time.